In what I like to call my everyday interweb adventures, I usually stop by the reddit subforum, birthparents. Recently, an expectant mother posted there asking for advice regarding the adoption option. Of course, in stark contrast to most of the advice she received, I posted some truthful answers about adoption in the vein of what I wished I had known before relinquishment. In response to my reply, I was asked, “you sound like your adoption experience wasn’t pleasant. May I ask why?”
Upon reading this, my immediate response was to chuckle to myself. What exactly does a pleasant adoption experience look like? No matter the circumstance, how can giving away one’s child EVER be considered pleasant? My experience wasn’t the horror show that happens to so many other women, to be sure, but I would never categorize it as something on the pleasant part of the adoption experience spectrum. I’m not sure anyone can.
The question itself (at first glance) seems innocuous. In my experience, however, a question like this is asked to discount my input. It is a different way of saying, “I’m sorry your experience was bad, but not all experiences are like that.” Or maybe this mother was hoping to figure out how she could avoid the unpleasantness I experienced. The thing is, adoption is always unpleasant, for both first parents and adoptees. It is something to be avoided, if at all possible. The fact that this mother would ask a question like that leads me to believe that whomever she has been discussing her options with has not presented her with a full, truthful portrait of what adoption means. That is unacceptable.
Most of the advice doled out by other first parents on this forum is equally unacceptable. One mother advised her to seek out counseling from an adoption center and to try not to think about how her child might feel in the future. Excuse me? What kind of advice is that? Shitty advice, that’s what kind. But hey, who I am to say, my adoption experience wasn’t pleasant, afterall.
It is one thing to not get all “anti” on mothers who have already relinquished. To a certain extent, I agree with not berating these mothers who are happy with their experience (for now). There are times when I wish I could go back into the fog. It is quite another thing to lead a mother questioning their ability to parent their child down the adoption primrose path. It is not okay. It is not okay to let another mother believe that adoption can ever be pleasant. With all of the sorrow, grief, and despair that first mothers feel, even in a “happy” adoption situation, how can we ever mince words and give encouragement to the option of adoption. I would never wish all of this angst on another human being, and essentially, that is what many first mothers do. It is wrong. Our role in giving advice to other mothers should be to present the full and honest picture of what adoption is, let mothers know how soul crushingly difficult it is throughout the rest of our lives. To present it as a solution to a problem is wrong, especially when what they need to make an informed decision is the absolute truth.
I participated in a discussion about birth mothers giving their children up for adoption on Huffpost Live on Monday. It was the first time I have ever spoken in such a public way about my experience and it felt good to get some of it out of me. My adoption experience is like this weight I carry around and I don’t even notice it is so heavy until I let a little of it go.
My husband and I don’t talk about the adoption very often or at all really. He has tried to understand my feelings, but up until now, he hasn’t gotten it. We had a conversation about the adoption last night. Okay, it was more like a Chernobyl level meltdown.
He asked me why it was so important for me to speak publicly about it and then uttered one phrase that opened the flood gates. He said, “I don’t understand it, no one put a gun to your head.” He didn’t say this to hurt me, of that I am sure. He said it out of utter frustration because he just could not understand. The amount of anger that I leveled at him was unprecedented in our relationship. I screamed at him:
IT WAS NOT A CHOICE! I WAS LIED TO! WHAT HAPPENED TO ME AND MY SON WAS NOT RIGHT!
I went on, crying, stammering, blubbering about all of the things that were withheld from me, all of the out right lies that were fed to me. How I was pushed to feel sorry for the adoptive parents who would be heartbroken if I changed my mind. How no one, not even my own family, supported me enough to at least explain to me my parenting options. I screamed that I was made to feel ashamed, and still do feel the shame of my so-called decision. What kind of mother gives away her child?!?
My husband, seeing me in this state, cried right along with me. For the first time, he understood. More than that, he got ANGRY. I could feel his raw emotion, the absolute disgust he felt with my family, with the agency, with everyone I was close with at that time in my life. For the first time, I felt like I had someone in my corner, someone who loved me and supported me. He finally understood why I can’t “get over it”. I love him for listening to me, more than that, for hearing me. I love him for not trying to solve me. Adoption is not a problem to be solved, at least not in my lifetime. It is not ever going to go away and all he can offer me is a partner to go through it with.
In this season of Thankgiving, I am grateful for my husband.
Up until I relinquished my son for adoption, I had a pretty rosy view of adoption as a whole. However, I am ashamed to say, I only really thought of it from a hopeful adoptive couple’s point of view. When I did think about the concept of adoption, it was usually when I would hear of a friend or family member hoping to adopt because they could not have children of their own. I would feel terrible for people who had adoptions “fail” and I never considered it from the mother’s viewpoint or the adoptee’s viewpoint. I do not think I was any different than the average Joe who has never had a personal experience with adoption. I believe that the average american with no connections to adoption has a fairly preconceived notion of what adoption means to the people who are living it every day, if they ever think about it at all.
The current Veronica Brown and Baby Desirai cases (among others) have given many of us the opportunity to comment and educate the average Joe about what adoption truly means to the birth mother and adoptee. I can not say I am grateful for the opportunity because of the awful circumstances surrounding these cases, but I can say that it gives me some hope for opening up a dialogue with society at large.
Throughout my travels around the interwebs, commenting on articles, reading others’ comments, I seem to encounter the same basic idea from the average Joe over and over again. It is the idea that birth mothers who seek to educate others about corruption in adoption need to “just get over it”. The underlying assumption is that we, as birthmothers, made our choice and need to move on with our lives.
Do Birth Mothers Ever Truly Move On?
In the spirit of having an open dialogue, I want to address the idea of moving on with our lives after relinquishing. Personally, I have “moved on” with my life the best way I can. I am married, raising 3 children with my husband who I adore. I am active in the school system, volunteering my time and resources as much as I can. I attend school myself. I am not lying in bed everyday, immobile from the sadness of losing my oldest son. I am not wallowing in self pity. From all outward appearances, I have moved on. The grief I feel from my adoption experience is not something that I am ever going to be able to forget. Moving forward with my life does not mean I forget what happened or forget the child I gave up. It is the same with a parent who loses a child to death. They move forward through the pain, but they are never going to forget their child. To expect more from anyone who loses someone close to them, whether that is through death, adoption, drug abuse, and so on, is to expect more than any human being can manage.
A huge part of being able to move forward through the grief is helping and educating others about adoption issues. My adoption experience was not part of the baby scoop era of adoption nor was it a part of the current open adoption trend. I would categorize my experience as being a fairly normal, run of the mill, everyday experience of birthmothers. The “normalcy” of my experience is exactly why I try to educate others on adoption issues. If my “normal” experience left me feeling like this, then everything I was told is wrong. I can not stand by and watch others encourage mothers to give away their children under false pretenses. The prevailing view of adoption by the average Joe needs to change.
Does a Birth Mother Really Make a Choice?
Part of the problem when birth mothers talk about adoption issues, is this notion of choice. We made our choice, we should live with it. We made our beds, we have to lie in them. We are at fault because we did not research the issues. We should have thought about all of that beforehand. When I write about coercion and mis-truths in adoption, and how the corruption involved in adoption negates any real choice, I think it is a hard concept for most people to grasp. It is just too abstract if you have never been subjected to anything like that. I am going to attempt to use an analogy, which I hope will make it easier to understand.
Mr. Smith is experiencing a medical issue. Let’s say it’s a tumor. Mr. Smith has been told by their primary care physician that the treatment for the tumor is either surgery to remove it or chemotherapy. Mr. Smith is referred to an oncologist whom they have never met, but the Mr. Smith assumes since an oncologist is a doctor specializing in cancer that the doctor will be an expert in their field. Mr. Smith been told that this specialist will discuss his treatment options. It is reasonable to assume prior to meeting with this specialist, that the doctor is going to use his experience, his expert knowledge, statistics, medical research studies, medical journals, etc. to recommend the best treatment for Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith has his appointment, the doctor recommends surgery to remove the tumor and explains in detail why it is the best course of treatment. The doctor also explains why chemotherapy is not the right option and gives Mr. Smith statistics to reinforce his recommendation against it. Mr. Smith chooses to have the surgery based on his expert doctor’s recommendation.
Mr. Smith has the surgery, and develops some fairly severe complications because of it. Mr. Smith finds out later that the doctor presented false statistics, misrepresented the outcome from chemotherapy treatment, withheld vital information about the possible complications from the surgery, and made a great deal of money by performing surgery on Mr. Smith.
Based on this, would the average person say that Mr. Smith ever made a real choice? I would say no, Mr. Smith was never given accurate information and therefore he could not have made an informed, true, real choice.
Now, let’s go back and replace “Mr. Smith” with “Miss Jones”. Let’s replace “oncologist” and “doctor” with “adoption professional”. Let’s replace “tumor” with “pregnant”.
Miss Jones is pregnant. Let’s say it’s unplanned. Miss Jones has been told by her gynecologist that her options are to raise the child herself or to give the baby up for adoption. Miss Jones is referred to an adoption professional whom she has never met, but Miss Jones assumes since an adoption professional is a person specializing in adoption issues that the adoption professional will be an expert in their field. Miss Jones has been told that this adoption professional will discuss her options. It is reasonable to assume prior to meeting with this specialist, that the adoption professional is going to use their experience, their expert knowledge, statistics, adoption research studies, medical journals, etc. to recommend the best option for Miss Jones and her child. Miss Jones has her appointment, the adoption professional recommends adoption and explains in detail why it is the best option. The adoption professional also explains why raising the child is not the right option and gives Miss Jones statistics to reinforce the recommendation against it. Miss Jones chooses adoption based on the adoption professional’s recommendation.
Miss Jones gives her baby up for adoption, and develops some fairly severe complications because of it. Miss Jones finds out later that the adoption professional presented false statistics, misrepresented the outcome raising her child, withheld vital information about the possible complications from the adoption, and made a great deal of money by facilitating the adoption.
Based on this, would the average person say that Miss Jones ever made a real choice? I would say no, Miss Jones was never given accurate information and therefore she could not have made an informed, true, real choice.
If a person with a life altering medical condition can reasonably assume that a medical professional is going to give them accurate information about their treatment options, shouldn’t a person consulting an adoption professional be able to reasonably assume the same thing about their options?
In real life, there are regulations and repercussions for a doctor who would engage in such practices, including professional ruin. I would expect the doctor in my little scenario to be sued for malpractice and I would expect Mr. Smith to win that lawsuit. There are little, if any, regulations and repercussions for an adoption professional who would do the same. In fact, the scenario I presented above is dead-on accurate for my experience, and an accurate portrayal of many adoptions.
Now, let’s throw in a healthy dose of positive adoption language heaped on Miss Jones and a dash of being in the position to have to consider the hopeful adoptive parents’ feelings and you have the current adoption system in the United States. Does that sound like an informed choice to you, reader?
I know this blog certainly doesn’t get a ton of average, uninterested in adoption, readers, however it is my hope that this oversimplified analogy can shed a little light on the meaning of choice in adoption.
Pre-birth matching of expecting mothers and prospective adoptive parents is pretty commonplace in domestic infant adoption these days. From an outsider’s perspective, it makes sense if 2 parties are entering into an open adoption agreement that they should get to know each other before committing to a lifelong relationship. It would also make sense that a mother considering adoption would want to know a little bit about the people who will be raising her child. Unfortunately, this practice is ripe for unethical behavior and manipulation.
I disagree with pre-birth matching for a few reasons. First and foremost, a mother can not and should not be forced to make a final decision about adoption until well after the birth of her child. If that decision can not be made prior to birth, it makes no sense for prospective adoptive parents to put themselves in the position to be heartbroken when a woman decides to parent. It should be assumed that a mother is going to raise their child until she can sign her consent for adoption without undue stress. In most circles, the opposite is assumed. If a woman contacts an agency while pregnant the assumption is that she will be giving her baby up for adoption after the child is born. If a woman can not make the decision regarding adoption until after her baby is born, why bother with pre-birth matching?
Are Adoptive Parents Engaging In Adoption Coercion?
I try to give people the benefit of the doubt in life. With regards to pre-birth matching, I try to believe that prospective adoptive parents engage in this practice because it is what the agencies suggest. At this point, it simply is just how it is done in the U.S. so who are they to argue? I do believe that the industry as a whole has a different agenda when it comes to pre-birth matching. The agencies and lawyers know that a mother is more likely to follow through with an adoption if she has a relationship with the adopters but I have tried to believe that hopeful adoptive parents do not engage in the practice because of that. And then I read something like this, taken from a post on the Adoptive Families Circle forums:
“With my first I waited until after court and had more of a family party.
My last 2 were piratically twins (3.5 months apart) and the expectant/birth mothers were good friends.
I was having a huge shower and knew they both wanted to come, so I invited them prior to birth.
I am glad I did because it really got them excited to see all my friends and family and all the love and support and gifts. They loved seeing all their child would have, the nursery and also seeing all the friends and family, etc.
It would have been really hard had they not actually placed, but I am glad it worked out. Maybe that influenced it, I believe the more time you spend together and share, the more likely they do place. You just never know. I thought if they did not place I would give them the gender specific stuff and keep the other stuff.
On a side note I knew I would get a ton of baby stuff, so I had a hospital bag/recovery basket for them so they would have something to open as well with robe, slippers, and all the stuff my sister said you need after you deliver, etc.
Maybe it is to emotional to do for a first time adoption, but probably fun for a second one.”
This comment was in response to a prospective adoptive mother wondering if she should or should not invite the expectant mother she was matched with to her baby shower.
I have bolded the portion of the comment that I had a visceral reaction to. What that bolded portion is describing is most definitely coercion. This woman is describing how, by having the expectant mother present at the baby shower, she was hoping it would put pressure on the mother to follow through with the adoption. She flat out states that she believed that the more time spent with the expecting mother, the more likely they are to give their child to you.
When I read that comment, it was a punch in the gut. This is not how adoption is supposed to work. A woman who is considering adoption should not be subjected to the manipulation and added pressure of worrying about the prospective parents. To read a statement like this from an adoptive mother was truly an eye opener for me.
I am not sharing this woman’s comment to punish or embarrass her. It is my hope that more expecting mothers and hopeful adoptive parents will start to recognize the subtle manipulation and added level of stress pre-birth matching puts on mothers and refuse to engage in it. Adoption should not be about convincing a woman to give up their child. Adoption should be about a woman making the best choice for her child.
This year’s Mother’s Day kicked my ass, plain and simple. Yes, I survived it, but only because there really is no other option, is there?
Up until 2005, I mostly ignored Mother’s Day. I would send flowers or a card to my mother and grandmother, but I didn’t have to really acknowledge the holiday for the most part. I wasn’t emotional, I just ignored the day.
When I got married and had children that I actually am raising, the whole day changed. I could no longer just go about my business pretending that the day didn’t exist. Other people wanted to celebrate the joy of motherhood with me on that day, but not for the child I gave away. No one wanted to talk about that on Mother’s Day.
I think the assumption most people have is that because I now have “real” children that I am raising and am an “actual“ mother to, that I do not think about the child I gave away on Mother’s Day. Most people would not consider me a mother to that child. No, certainly I am not mothering him in any real way now. I have these three beautiful children to celebrate being a mother to. That is real to most people. The child I gave away is abstract.
I am friends on facebook with my son’s father. This is a semi new development that I am very grateful for. He did send me a quick Happy Mother’s Day message, but I am not really sure if it was for our child or just his acknowledgement that I have children and we are friends so have a nice day. Whatever the case may be, it was a small thing that made me smile that day.
What people do not realize is that having these three “real” children only intensifies the feeling of loss I have for my first child. And so, I was a miserable cunt on Mother’s Day this year. Truth be told, the only thing I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and sleep the day away. Instead, I spent the day outside with my kids, watching them play, and hoping that the Mike’s Hard Lemonade I was guzzling would make the day go by faster.
If you were a fly on the wall that day, you would probably not notice anything amiss with me. I simply sat there, drinking my drinks and smiling at my kids. Inside my head, however, was a completely different story.
Here are some random emotions and thoughts that ran through my head:
Anger – Fuck you Mother’s Day! Fucking bullshit holiday on which I must pretend to be perfect Mommy. Fuck you husband for not letting me stay in bed all day. Fuck you Mike’s Hard Lemonade for not providing me with the buzz I so desperately want. Fuck me for not buying a box of wine instead. Fuck you family for not even acknowledging that I might have mixed feelings about the day.
Jealousy – I wonder what my son did for his “real” mom on mother’s day? I wonder if I am even a passing thought for him today? I bet those rich bitches are out celebrating and having the time of their lives today. Fuck you for being able to spend the day together.
Self-pity – I want to be his mother. I should be the mother who gets to hug him and kiss him and love him.
Mostly, I was just irritated that I couldn’t enjoy the day with my family without grieving for my child. One more day to get through in May without having a complete mental breakdown. Jesus, having a mental breakdown at this point sounds like a nice vacation!
So I had to step back from adoption for the last couple of months. I think we all need to do that from time to time. But, just like every year, the month of May is here. My son was born 15 years ago, May 30th.
As soon as May 1st rolls around on the calendar, my emotions go into overdrive. Mind you, I think about my son every single day. Sometimes it is a passing thought, sometimes there is a more steady stream of emotions. May brings flowers, warmer days, and an emotional sledgehammer to my heart.
I read a very dismissive statement the other day from an adoptive mother. She stated that it must be a hard day once a year on her adopted child’s birthday for his birth mother. As if the only time us first mothers think about their children is on that one day a year. Fuck off is not a strong enough sentiment for that adoptive mother.
Every time I have to write a check, or make an appointment, or simply check what the date is, when I see the word, May, I feel like someone slapped me hard in the face. It is just another reminder of the mistake I made, the regrets I have, and the longing for my child. Couple that with Mother’s Day being this month and it’s a wonder I haven’t taken a long walk off a short pier.
I wonder if there will ever come a time when the month of May does not feel like a punch in the gut. It has been 15 years, so I am thinking I already have the answer to that question.
I realized today, that I have left out a big chunk of the “why adoption” puzzle in my story. I originally left it out because I did not want to make it sound like I was trying to garner sympathy or pity. I do not want either of those things. But today, a memory came to me and I was thrust deep into the throws of the “what ifs”.
I have severe asthma. I have had it since life began. When I became a teenager, it only got worse and from about the age of 15 I could usually count on going to the ER at least twice a year and being admitted into the hospital at least once. For many women, pregnancy exacerbates asthma. My OB told me that 1/3 of asthmatics will get better during pregnancy, 1/3 will stay the same, and 1/3 will get worse. I am sure stress had a lot to do with it, but during my pregnancy with my oldest son, my asthma got worse, much worse. At about the 6 month mark, I had such a severe attack that I was put on a ventilator and my doctors seriously contemplated taking my baby out early.
The first time I ended up admitted to the hospital during the pregnancy was fairly early on, right around the 2nd trimester mark. I had not told anyone I was pregnant yet, except the father. My doctor urged me to tell my mother as soon as possible. I was absolutely terrified.
On the day of my discharge, my nurse came in to talk to me. She was probably only a few years older than me, very pretty, seemed very together. My mother is a nurse, so I know how busy they are. She sat on the edge of my bed, took one of my hands in hers and started talking. She told me how she had an abortion when she was younger and then a year later found herself pregnant again. She told me how terrified she was and how ashamed she had been to be pregnant again. She asked me if I knew what I wanted to do yet. I told her I thought I was too far along for abortion, so I was not sure. She looked into my eyes, which were full of shameful tears, and told me I could do it. I could raise this baby. She explained how she was a single mother and although she struggled, she was raising her child and was thankful everyday for him. I don’t even think I said anything, just cried and nodded in agreement.
This nurse, who didn’t know me from Adam, took the time out of her extremely busy shift to sit and connect with me. To support me and encourage me.
I look back on that moment, before adoption entered the picture and I feel like such a fool. What if I had just listened to her? What if I had asked how she did it? What if, what if, what if.
That day, I was discharged from the hospital, and on the way home I told my mother I was pregnant. This is the moment adoption entered my life and any thoughts of raising my own child faded. Hello what ifs and goodbye what could have beens.